After meeting Thursday at a medieval island fortress in the Mediterranean, France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel made the offer of an EU-led mediation for Belarus, where police have cracked down on post-election protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.
"A dialogue between the authorities, the opposition and civil society is essential... We hope that this dialogue can be established by the Belarusians themselves," Macron said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But the European Union "stands ready to help if our role in mediation can be useful and is desired by the Belarusians along with other institutions ... and including Russia", Macron said.
At an EU meeting a day earlier, EU leaders said they would not recognise Lukashenko's re-election.
"There is no doubt that there were massive rule violations in the election," Merkel told reporters in Berlin after an emergency video summit with EU leaders. "The election was neither free nor fair. And that's why the result of the election cannot be recognised." Germany currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.
Macron said that he and Merkel have also discussed mounting tensions between Greece and Turkey over disputed Mediterranean waters.
“We have a shared agenda in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said. “We are standing together with Greece” and want to “ensure stability for the region”, while “favouring de-escalation”.
Earlier on Thursday, the French president made clear his tough line on Ankara, saying that his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan was conducting an "expansionist policy that mixes nationalism and Islamism, which is not compatible with European interests" in an interview with Paris Match. Macron also accused Turkey of being a "destabilising factor".
“We’re also working together on Libya,” Macron added, referring to the civil war that has racked the North African country since 2011, with the Turkish-backed, UN-recognised Government of National Accord taking the upper hand over the Russia-backed Libyan National Army in recent months. “The priority is to obtain a ceasefire and political resolution. The EU mission must be bolstered, those who break the UN embargo must be sanctioned,” Macron continued.
The French president also said that he wants to see a “united Europe when it comes to China”, as well as in regard to “support to Lebanon in the humanitarian response” to the August 4 Beirut explosion and “co-operation in Africa” on issues such as Tuesday’s military coup in Mali.
“We need to ramp up our co-operation, whether it’s Lebanon or Belarus or Covid-19,” Merkel said. “Even though we don’t enjoy global leadership, we will ensure EU makes its voice heard,” she continued – echoing Macron’s theme of “European sovereignty”.
Merkel emphasised that the Covid-19 pandemic is “far from over” and the EU “needs to stick together” to combat the crisis. “No country can go alone, entire countries can’t lockdown again, so we need co-operation on international level,” she continued.
With regard to the €750 billion Covid-19 stimulus package agreed in June, the German chancellor said France and Germany needed to work together to “ensure the right strategic decisions are made” to make best use of the funds – vowing that the two countries will “work together with business leaders”. The money will disproportionately benefit southern European countries such as Italy – which was hit hard by the virus in its early stages, but also had high public debt before the pandemic struck – to the chagrin of the EU’s so-called “Frugal Four”, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden.
Meanwhile Macron and Merkel expressed their concern for Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is being treated for suspected poisoning, and offered their assistance.
Macron said France stood ready to provide help in terms of Navalny's health, asylum or protection, while Merkel said the Kremlin critic could receive medical treatment in either country.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)